Saturday, 30 September 2017
Wednesday, 27 September 2017
Saturday, 23 September 2017
Two quiet sea days are now very much welcomed after such a fantastically energetic and inspiring holiday. I feel the need to wind down and relax to prepare for the rest of a very very busy term ahead.
We have a big concert in November so rehearsals will start for that in a few weeks, and I must also begin to think about some music rehearsals for my youth group performance of Dido and Aeneas in February - it sounds a long way off but the time will fly and it will be upon us.
There is also a week in Yorkshire working with the Renaissance ladies which I know will be challenging as well as interesting, the more advanced the singer, the more challenging the work. Exams are looming too, with a few high grades and a number of starters, obviously the repertoire for these baby exams is simple and uncomplicated, but one never knows what might happen with an under 8 on the day, so I always feel as if they are being very much nursed along to ensure the whole thing is a very positive experience.
So we are sailing past Denmark as I write, the only way I know this on what seems like open sea is when my phone pings and BT tells me that I am using data in……..Estonia, Denmark, Sweden or Timbuktu! Fortunately nowadays they have agreements with telephone companies, so infact I just use my normal contract amount and don't come home to a bill the size of Aberdeen !
The sailing day revels do not really appeal to Kate and myself, although the late night buffet last night was a triumph of artistry and culinary wizardry but having just finished late sitting dinner we were not really ready for more splendid food.
There was a langoustine mountain, a huge chocolate dragon, a butternut squash waterfall, a butter mermaid pouring cream from a jug and sugar sculptures which would have graced the Tsar’s table in the Winter Palace. It was a sight to behold, and we found out that the ice carving man was also fully employed carving fruits and vegetables during cruises - that was his ‘real’ job ! How astonishing.
Off for a good coffee and a relax. The sun has appeared so it may be possible to sit up on a high deck which would be lovely.
Signing off from the Baltic Adventure, it has been a cracking experience. Over and out.
Friday, 22 September 2017
We had a later start today due to the fact that we gained back one hour during the night, oddly the time changes between time zones always happens at 2am ? One would think it would click over at midnight, but no, every ship I have ever been in has said to set your clocks back or forward by one hour - and the change would happen at 2am !
A message came over the sound system from the captain telling us that the docking was now impossible as the Seawalk was not usable, so we would be dropping anchor and tendering to the land.
Thus after a cabin breakfast we ventured out into the rain and chill, wrapped up in our Paradise waterproofs to sample the sights of Nyashamn which is a port one hour from Stockholm. It was a cold and slightly bumpy tender to shore, but not in any way problematical. The port area did not look promising, and doing as we were told we followed the blue painted line on the ground into the Zentrum of the small town. In essence it was walking by a busy road into the depths of nowhere. We soon noticed folk on their way back to the ship, clearly having only been on land for 30 mins or so, therefore as the 10th group past by in the opposite direction to ourselves we made enquiries if the long and somewhat dull walk was worth it for the end product ! The answers were a universal no - most places were closed and it was not worth bothering with. We turned tail and legged it back to the ship, carefully following the blue line and finally arrived back to the tender dock, a mere 45 minutes after leaving the boat !
The dock was almost deserted, only shivering crew in great coats, wooly hats and thick gloves were there, the lifeboat tender was bobbing at the tied rope, only a quarter full of gloomy passengers slowly sinking into a frozen state. We joined them under the canopy bemoaning our wasted time in the cold ! Of course in reality nothing is ever wasted as…………
I can honestly say I have now been to Sweden but sadly, it was closed.
To be honest we were both quite exhausted this morning after the Russian marathon and Helsinki arrived with a general feel of ‘can we do it ?!’. There was sun glittering through the cabin window and a modest breakfast on a tray arrived at 9.30am. This all went to make the day seem more encouraging and thus fortified we decided to opt for the 10€ shuttle bus into the city and at least be able to say we had seen Finland !
I was expecting a very modern, glass and metal city but I was proved completely wrong ! It was a beautiful, quiet Hanseatic city centre with rather more humble 18/19th century buildings than the incomparable St Petersburg, softly cobbled streets and an altogether delightfully gentle feel ! It was very positive to be so very wrong, and I am glad we made the trek !
We had been told it was very expensive, but I have to say that the excellent coffee shop we lounged in for a short while, was charging the same as everywhere else, and their buffet lunch of three courses plus drinks was a snip at 10.5 euros !
Being on the exhausted side and with aching limbs we could only manage a short walkabout, said coffee and a little souvenir hunting before the coach trundled us back home to Columbus. The Fins, like the Swedes definitely know about simple style and good taste, and this was clearly born out in one shop I visited. Ganit, as the shop was called, proffered such streamlined and simple kitchen and office equipment, much of which were in warm whites, natural straw colour, or tasteful beige and black neutrals; I could have spent a small fortune. I satisfied myself with two small desk items for the grandchildren, in the hopes that they will be considered ‘cool’. ( ….but who knows….?!)
Back on the ship by lunchtime we partook of the Bistro buffet where I ate delicious and falling off the bone rabbit legs in a very savoury gravy. It is probably several decades since I ate rabbit, and it served to remind me how lean and tasty this white meat is ! It was a hugely unusual dish for a cruise line to serve, until I was told the food theme of the day was ‘Scandinavian’, and it seems rabbit is very popular in this neck of the woods. My dinner later in the evening was reindeer stew whilst Kate had herring as her starter, a thoroughly Nordic repast !
We chatted with a very charming and interesting couple over lunch and despite our growing torpor held our end of the conversation up remarkably well. It was then time for a peaceful retirement to our cabins - me with a Usain Bolt speed cappuccino in mine, and Kate with a decaffinated non coffee in hers.
So I can honestly say ‘ I have been to Finland, and very nice it was!’
Thursday, 21 September 2017
Wednesday, 20 September 2017
Monday, 18 September 2017
Last night kate and I were invited to the Columbus Club cocktail party for Gold members of Cruise and Maritime! It was a drinks and canapés affair which we had decided to attend, but were unofficially dreading ! It turned out to be very low key and pleasant - the officers made a point of chatting with everyone, and our dashing Greek captain was dignified and charming, he is known to the crew as Silver Fox, and indeed was every inch a potential Hollywood film star! It was a new experience to me as I don't think I have ever been a member of that sort of ‘club’ before ! A £ to speak to me now !
We docked at Port of Tallinn at 11am this morning after a sunny sail up the Baltic Sea into the harbour. I watched the pilot jump from the pilot boat from directly under my cabin window, onto our ship in a very athletic sort of way and never for a moment looking as if he might end up in the drink ! It was a flat calm cruise into the berth even though it meant a 180 degree turn so we face the correct direction for sailing out later today !
A complimentary shuttle bus took us from the terminal to the centre of Old Town and the magnificent Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. I simply love the ornate style of the Russian Orthodox churches. They sparkle and glisten and are quite mystical in their ambience. Today the great alter area was quietly filled with local folk lighting candles, saying their own private prayers and then going about their daily business. This kind of normal drop in worship I find very comforting. No great show, no large body of worship, just ordinary folk alone with their their thoughts. A monk was quietly seated in a small corner seat, again just ‘getting on with the job’ as my nun friends say !
We then walked around the Old Town - so beautiful and charming in its soul. Tiny winding passages, cobble stones in lanes a thousand years old, and buildings with the ever present pastel Hanseatic colours. We had lunch in a small cafe which looked as old as Methuselah with large stone walls and a low ceiling. The Pea Purée soup with crispy bacon was to die for and the coffee was exquisite !
We had purchased tickets for the hop on hop off tourist bus which was a boon, as we were able to see some of the sights from the comfort of a warm inside cabin - it was sunny and crisp but windy and only 12 degrees. A perfect autumnal day in a perfect fairytale city. A large statue of Rusalka is by the harbour, but I haven't yet discerned whether it is the Dvorak Opera ‘Rusalka’ or a famous Estonian legend !?
The harbour market was great as we walked back to the ship, and the crafts in embroidery and wood were gorgeous to behold. Much Juniper tree wood products were for sale which smelled heavenly and seemingly the pan stands release more scent of juniper when a hot dish is put upon one. Well I bought one, so we will see !
What a simply delightful city, long may it stay independent and safe from any type of invasion from not so cheery close neighbours !
Sunday, 17 September 2017
Warnemunde, Eastern Germany
We had garnered some extra time in Warnemunde due to missing Copenhagen- so every traveller’s cloud has a silver lining ! This meant we could have a leisurely morning in the sunshine on the deck, eat a buffet lunch al fresco before walking the gang plank and strolling into the beautiful centre of Warnemunde.
It is a lovely town with mostly cobbled lanes and full of fairy tale dwellings which have a gingerbread house feel and shape. The centre of the town showed little of the eastern block utility apartment buildings, it really was a gorgeous and opera set kind of place. Nowadays the glorious buildings from the 16th/17th Century have been lovingly restored and are glistening clean in pastel pinks, blues and buttery yellows with typical German window boxes heaving with summer blooms.
We found a wondrous coffee house which made a local delicacy that translated in English as ‘chimney cakes’ ! They were made in front of our eyes, and served hot and sticky, rolled in hazelnuts or cinnamon or indeed many other sweet meats. I could not eat a whole cake obviously, but I tried a smidgeon and it was cake from Elysium! K had a hot confection from the oven and I must say I was very jealous. I contented myself with a fresh peach as large as a small beach ball and a quarter of a punnet of local raspberries with an exquisite ‘lavender’ kick in the after taste, purchased fresh from the market stall.
The Lutheran Church was also a restored beauty with 14th carved statues and 15th century pews all installed in a newer shell, which we read was the fourth church building on that Kirchenplatz site. I took no pictures in the church as it seemed inappropriate in such a working building, but it felt as it Handel might walk in at any moment, sit at the ancient but wonderfully renovated organ and play a rousing voluntary.
We strolled back to our ship along the marina, bypassing a rather more garish German cruise ship full of very loud singing ! Earlier in the morning we had watched the people in long snaking queues on the marina path waiting to embark, and it had seemed so chaotic and undisciplined, so very un - German in fact ! The whole ship’s crew were clearly in for a lively voyage judging by the riotous shouting which could be heard from our ship docked on the next berth ! We were rather glad to be returning to the sedate and very British cruise ship Columbus!
Dinner was another triumph of cordon bleu served with a healthy side of many green vegetables ! The sugar free dessert turned out to be a sugar free bread and butter pudding, so given the carbs in the three layers of bread I had to content myself with one small bite, but later enjoyed some rather fine 85% German chocolate when I rolled back to my cabin.
Saturday, 16 September 2017
Due to the wagging tail of Storm Aileen we had an unexpected sea day when we should have been to Copenhagen. It was sad not to revisit this beautiful medieval city but much better to be safe than sorry, so we spent the day in a lazy way, reading, writing and consuming food. Along with those occupations I attended a couple of very interesting lectures. The first was a general talk covering all sorts of aspects of The Baltic Sea. It covered geology, geography, culture and history. I learnt quite a good deal about this part of the world which for most of last century has been somewhat closed to the world being part of the USSR.
I even heard talk about small countries the size of Paradise which were previously unknown to me. Only one small state still belongs to Russia and that is decidedly walled, gated and probably has a lid in an effort to keep nosy foreigners out. It's name is Kaliningrad.
Later in the day we had another lecture about the life and works of Carl Faberge - this was obviously to tie in with our St Petersburg visit and although not delivered with quite the panache other lectures have been, it was none the less very interesting with slides of the most incredibly beautiful artefacts which would dazzle the most jaded of eyes and hearts.
Immediately after that we remained in the theatre to watch a film - the all new Dad’s Army. What a great movie it was, witty, slapstick, clever, poignant and true to the venerable old series of half a century ago. Indeed the vicar was the original vicar who, in view of his now great age, played a cameo role. It was very touching to see him in character. The only other ‘remainer’ was Ian Lavender who moved from the ‘stupid boy’ of the original series to playing a rather snooty and golf loving Brigadier. The new twist was the introduction of Elizabeth Mainwaring and her gallant troupe of ATS girls. They were splendid and with Alison Steadman as the redoubtable Mrs Fox it worked like a charm. With cast including Bill Nighy, Tom Courtney, Michael Gambon and the aforesaid Alison Steadman, how could it fail !
Quite entertained and totally relaxed we finished the day with another lovely dinner, and I must say they have now realised my need for a Carbohydrate Free meal ! Hurrah, I was thus brought my delicious and delicately cooked halibut with a positive basket load of green vegetables - it was tricky trying to explain I can eat those veggies which grow above ground !!
We dock at Warnemunde tomorrow, the port for Berlin, which is in fact three hours away, but some intrepid folk are making that journey ! We will potter off the ship after lunch into this ancient and beautiful small town which used to be in East Germany.
Over and out sir………….stupid boy !
Friday, 15 September 2017
We made it ! Our flight from Inverness was delayed around about two hours but as we were staying overnight in Horley the drama of a delay rather washed over us ! Delays have often meant stress and many logistical problems in my working life, at a festival if the adjudicator is unavoidably delayed, 600 people are waiting to listen or sing, and when I was teaching in London a delay resulted in two lessons being shunted to the end of the day and making another mad dash to the train to get home. No more. We sat out the plane drama with a smile and a good coffee and ne’er a care on our shoulders.
On arriving at Gatwick Mark was waiting like a patient chauffeur to escort us to our hotel where we dropped off our bags then moved seamlessly to Xenia in Crawley. The Brazilian Steakhouse where you can (quote) eat not only as much delicious meat as you wish from skilfully sliced skewers, but as much as you can ! It was a challenge we all undertook with gusto and determination.
The hotel was basic, spotlessly clean and very close to Gatwick which was all a huge plus, and the next morning our taxi drove us speedily to Port of London at Tilbury. Over much of the Uk Storm Aileen was ravaging the countryside and so it had been affecting the sea conditions, so when we arrived we knew that our sailing was very delayed as the ship had not been able to navigate the Thames estuary, which was closed. Therefore Columbus was bobbing about off Margate at the mouth of the estuary until around 4pm in the afternoon. The whole of Cruise and Maritime head office had swung into action and by the time we arrived there was a lake of complimentary teas, coffees, snacks and bottled water, charming and permanently cheery young ladies keeping everyone happy and calm and thorough well micro managed plans ! They even brought me a chicken salad for lunch as the sandwiches were not much use to a low carb diabetic ! The service was quite magnificent and I will write a letter heaving with praise for the staff - we complain a good deal, but praise for a job well done often gets left off the agenda.
At around 5pm after the fastest turn round I have ever experienced we were onboard. There were still folk waiting to disembark but the whole procedure of swapping one set of cruisers for another was totally smooth and problem free. We were ensconced in beautiful cabins with windows by 5.10 and exploring by 5.15 !
It is a ship which has had a few owners before Cruise and Maritime bought it, and although at the smaller end of cruising in terms of passenger numbers, it is decidedly upmarket with many smart lounges, squishy sofas and plush arm chairs, as well as its own coffee shop called Cappuccinos and the most delectable Spa I have seen - dare I say it is rather more pampering that the Queen Mary 2 Spa ! Is that blasphemous?
We dined quite early and were delighted with the food ( but really that goes without saying !) then waited for our luggage to arrive so we could unpack and thus feel totally settled in to our home for the next glorious 12 days ! There was the excellent Bridge of Spies movie in the Show lounge starting at 10.30pm and I was determined to watch it……..well at 11.45 I found my eyes were closing so had to accept defeat and miss the end ! It rather reminded me of that fantastic Jeremy Nicholas song The Usherettes Blues ! The poor old usherette has worked for 50 years or more and has missed ‘the end of every film I've seen!’ Sarah Walker the fabulous British mezzo often used it as an encore at the end of a recital and it always went down a storm ! I have taught it many times but sadly have always had to explain the film references to the last two bright young generations of mezzos. Gone with the Wind, Spartacus, Cary Grant, Doris Day……..all past them by ! Someone needs to write the updated version using films about vampires and high school musicals !
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